By Carrie D. Miller
There’s no doubt about it; your book is being judged by its cover. Hard.
I made many mistakes with the original cover of my debut novel, The White Raven. This self-publishing journey has been a series of learning experiences. No matter how much research you do, you’re going to screw up along the way. And that’s okay. You’ll learn, like I did.
The White Raven is my lifelong dream come to fruition. I walked away from my executive career so I could write it, something all the “experts” say not to do. But I was ready and I have no regrets about that decision.
For the cover, I wanted a white raven to be the focal point. (Duh. That’s the book’s title. So yeah, it needs to have a big bird front and center.) I searched the Internet for images and came across an artist who’d done a stunning pencil drawing of a black crow. I contacted her and asked if she could do a white raven. She specialized in animal drawings but had never done a book cover. I didn’t care; I loved her work. And it was all about the bird!
She drew an amazing image of a white raven and the silhouette of a woman, both wrapped in an ethereal purple mist. I loved it. It was just what I wanted.
Can you tell where I went wrong?
I had done a great deal of research about self-publishing before I decided to go that route. But I didn’t think anything extra about cover design. I’m a huge reader—I know about book covers already, so what’s there to research? For my book’s cover, I went with what I wanted and I liked.
I got opinions from friends and family. They liked it, of course. Wrong again.
After the e-book was published, I stared at it next to all the other books in its genre. It only took a few days for an uneasy feeling to replace the elation I had. No, no! I had spent good money on that cover, and I had formed a relationship with the artist. I had given signed paperbacks to all my friends. I had to keep using it! It was beautiful, right?
Whether it was beautiful or not, it simply didn’t hold up next to the other covers. I hated to admit it but it looked “homemade” to me. I was in denial for weeks, months. And after the initial sales from all my friends, relatives, and former colleagues, sales stopped.
So, I did what I should have done initially. I researched the anatomy of a book cover.
There is a great deal of psychology to a book cover. It’s not just eye candy.
Every article I read on cover design reinforced the fact that I screwed up. And I kicked myself realizing that as a debut author, I had missed out on that one opportunity to introduce myself properly to the public.
I learned that the cover should evoke an emotional response. It should convey the genre of the book, its essence, and its mood before the person ever clicks on the thumbnail. The cover must intrigue them, pique their curiosity, grab them. You have one chance, mere seconds, to do that as the person scrolls down the page.
The cover also needs to look professional. Although I had a professional do my original cover, she wasn’t the right professional.
I discovered the company to redo my cover on a popular monthly e-book cover design contest. I loved what I saw and checked out their website. While their designs were outstanding, there was significant sticker shock. But I knew I had to do it.
I told the designer several of my ideas but gave her free reign to come up with her own. She presented me with several options, one was a mix of one of my ideas and her imagination. It blew me away.
I field-tested it on several groups in Goodreads and posts on Kboards.com. I found a critique website also to garner feedback. I didn’t ask my friends or family.
After a few minor changes, I had my shiny new cover!
I launched The White Raven e-book on April 1st, 2017. I had an initial surge of sales from all the people I know. It was awesome—but it gave me a false sense of hope. After that, sales dropped to nearly nothing, even with deeply discounted promotions.
I launched the new cover on July 1st. WOW. I was shocked at the spike in sales. I watched the numbers rise each month with a huge smile on my face.
You can’t tell me that isn’t a direct result of the new cover. I am a nobody author with only a few thousand Twitter followers (mostly fellow authors) and a little over 150 likes on my Facebook page. This proved to me that I did the right thing.
My sales are not stellar, but as a newbie author, I’m pretty darn happy. And with the redesigned cover, I feel it is a true reflection of what’s inside the book in terms of sophistication, mood, energy, and story.
Bottom line: Save up your money and hire a professional cover designer. As the saying goes, you only have one chance to make a good first impression.
In a former life, Carrie D. Miller was an executive in the software industry. Her career in the technology world included software product management, website design, training, and technical writing just to name a few. At the age of 45, she decided to chuck it all to become an author which had been a life-long dream.
When her nose is not in a book or in front of a monitor, she can be found inventing cocktails, hanging out at the dog park, or in the kitchen making something yummy and unhealthy.
At present, she lives in a far-flung suburb of Dallas, Texas, with her long-time boyfriend and two rescues, a semi-feral cat and derpy German Shepherd.